Motorcycle racing is a dangerous but very exciting sport. Cycles have been raced in many different ways; on drag strips, asphalt and clay ovals, super speedways, cross country, obstacle courses, indoor arenas and hill climbs. It seems like no matter what kind or size a cycle is, there is a class and place it can be raced in an organized event.
One of the more popular series on the American Motorcyclist Association Pro Tour is the National Hillclimb Championship Series. The 13-race tour covers several states from Maine to Michigan. For the past two years, one of the top riders on the national circuit has been a local driver, Richard Soter of Finksburg.
After finishing second last year in the AMA national standings, Soter was aiming for the championship this season. Most of the year Soter was on top in a close point battle.
With three races remaining, Soter had his only bad race, but it was enough to cost him the national championship.
"I had a six-point lead with three races remaining going into the Jefferson [Pa.] hill climb event," said Soter. "But I crashed and it was the only race I didn't finish all year. The crash ruined the whole year."
Looking back, Soter, 36, only would have needed a 10th-place finish in the Jefferson race to win the championship. Instead he finished second for the second straight year, 10 points behind Paul Pinsonnault of Ludlow, Mass.
Finishing second among more than 30 AMA Pro riders is still quite an accomplishment. Soter tied with Pinsonnault for the most wins this year with four. Soter also had four seconds, four thirds and the one race he did not finish.
"I shouldn't feel too bad about the second-place finish," said Soter, a home improvement subcontractor. "Especially since Paul and I are best friends. We always park together at every race. Actually, all the guys are like family. We help each other out all the time.
"I guess it was good that I finished second. I need to take some time off to be with my family and get a house and work on the bike. If I had won, I would have wanted to race next year with the No. 1 on my bike."
Soter followed in his father's footsteps. The senior Soter raced for several years until he retired 16 years ago. Richard went with him to every race and when he was 18, he drove an exhibition race.
It wasn't until five years ago that Soter was able to pursue his dream -- to race professionally. He started out slowly, sitting out two years after his first year of racing. When he came back, he quickly made a name for himself.
"I wasted my time at first," said Soter. "I didn't have a competitive bike, I was so frustrated that I quit and sat out two years to build the bike I wanted."
With the help of former champion Ken Frazier, Soter spent two years building a bike. Soter's motorcycle is very different from an ordinary one.
The wheelbase is seven feet with an overall length of nine feet. Soter's bike is an 840-cubic-centimeter BSA engine that runs on straight nitrous oxide. Chains are used on the rear tire for traction on courses that vary from two to 600 feet.
Most of the hills are so steep that it is almost impossible to walk up them. If the sharp incline of the course isn't difficult enough, many of the courses have a 20-foot level or flat spot halfway up the hill. Each rider is allowed two runs, with the fastest run taking the championship.
Last weekend at 75-80 Dragway, Joe Bounds of Woodbine defeated Joe Mayne of Mount Airy in Class I. In Class II, Mike Garber of Taneytown defeated Ed Talbert of Taneytown. Steve Dustin of Westminster was a semifinalist. In the motorcycle division, Dave Belt of Taneytown won over Marion Ford of Hampstead.
On the oval track, Jeff Shepard of Upperco was 12th in the fourth annual U.S. Dirt Nationals World of Outlaw race in Terre Haute, Ind. At Hagerstown Speedway in the Big Fall Classic, Charlie Schaffer of Hampstead had a sixth- and 10th-place finish the two features. Gary Stuhler of Westminster had a fifth in the first feature.